Stepping into the world of Social Work

Category Archives: Social Work

The end of my first year….

USC Logo

USC Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other than waiting to receive my final grades, my first year at USC is over!

After a few weekends spent chained to the computer writing papers, I e-mailed my final paper to the professor on Wednesday. It was a great feeling to be finished and be able to relax for a couple of months until the process starts again.

Besides my grades, I’m also expecting to hear within the next few weeks where I will be placed in my next year’s internship and what financial aid I will be receiving (grants and scholarships in this case as opposed to loans). While these won’t make an immediate dent in our budget next year, they’ll make a major difference in our debt in ’14 when I’m finished.

As I told the advisor responsible for placing me, I rather expect my internship placement to be with seniors. I’ve had a great deal of experience with kids and with disabled adults, and while I have had personal contact with seniors my whole life, I haven’t worked with them professionally. I am open, however, to whatever she finds for me, particularly knowing that this placement is supposed to be both orienting to the profession and also perhaps to fill in any gaps in the person’s background. I did request to be placed in the San Fernando Valley and for a placement which would pay work-study funds to make up for what I will be losing by going part-time at work.

Right now, it’s time to focus on neglected housework and some relaxation!

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Next Year’s financial aid

It’s that time again!

USC vs. Syracuse

USC vs. Syracuse (Photo credit: jeffdubyn)

Financial aid decisions and scholarships take time to arrange, so we apparently need to start applying for them about this time. Fortunately, my advisers at USC are very good at ensuring we are aware of deadlines.

First, having your taxes for the previous year completed is almost a prerequisite. You can do some estimating if there’s a reason you need to delay filing your taxes (perhaps you are having to pay rather than getting a refund) but then you end up having to fix the estimates anyway.

The next step is filing the FAFSA, a federal form about your financial status, that is shared with your school, or in the case of an incoming applicant, all of the schools you are applying to. This year, it even linked to our tax filing, making it only a matter of a few clicks. This was amazingly helpful! This will determine my eligibility for federal loans and work-study.

2010-2011 FAFSA Screenshots

2010-2011 FAFSA Screenshots (Photo credit: Christopher S. Penn)

Then, in the case of USC Social Work, I also had to fill out an application for any funding they have that is specific to our school. This wasn’t difficult either, though I wished they could have allowed for another 200 characters or so in the box where you explained why you need financial aid.

We have also been advised to look for private funding that isn’t directly awarded through our school. I will particularly be looking for scholarships for those intended to benefit hearing impaired students.

The good news is that second year part-time students (as I will be) become eligible for things that were not available to us this year. The other great news is that it is very likely that I will be able to use work study funds for my internship hours. This will help quite a bit, particularly since I’ll need to go part-time at my job starting in September.

More on all of this as I hear. I will still need to be working with the USC financial aid department to provide a variety of documents, including information that my budget will be reduced due to going part time.

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Mid-Semester School Update

Zero Tolerance for Clowns

Zero Tolerance for Clowns (Photo credit: Mike Licht,

It’s a little more than halfway through the semester, and I realized Ihadn’t written much about my classes recently. Probably not surprising since I’ve been busy writing papers (with the occasional diversion into writing about birth control insurance coverage and Limbaugh’s idiocy).

I have received one paper back, with an excellent grade. This paper was a group effort, with 6 other classmates coming together to write it. The assignment was to choose an issue or law that the NASW has taken a stand on, and the first paper was to be pretty much background.

Our group chose federal legislation ending some funding for abstinence only sex education and moving the funds to a program for comprehensive sex education. Basically, what this means is that some federal funds had been earmarked for sex education programs that would only teach the values of abstinence until marriage, and not about those measures that can be taken to prevent pregnancy or infection. We as a group agree with the National Association of Social Workers that evidence and social work values support comprehensive sex ed.

Our next paper will also be a group project, in which we engage in advocacy on the above issue. Our group has decided our advocacy will be submitting an editorial to some publication on the issue. We have not yet determined which one we will choose.

Our midterm on The Namesake was due a little more than a week ago, that was probably the most challenging task up to this point. Examining a fictional character according to a variety of developmental and psychological theories is interesting but challenging. I believe the biggest issue came from the distinctions within the exam itself. It carefully delineated which theories we could use for each question, but for at least one question none of the obvious theories really fit the situation.

Another paper I had to have in last week was an article review, also done in partnership with a classmate. We chose an article about “Women in the Middle” – middle aged women who are caring for two generations – their children and their aging parents. This paper, and the presentation we will give next week, was much shorter and thus not as difficult as the midterm, and with two of us we were able to move it along fairly well.

Coming up after the break: the final exam for Behavior, in which we interview an acquaintance over 70 years old, then apply what we have learned to that person’s life story.

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Day in the life of a job coach

This is a summary of what is a typical day for me as a job coach. This positions serves developmentally disabled adults at their workplaces,  the job coach serves as a supplemental trainer, advocate, and mentor to the clients/consumers. My roster of clients would typically be considered high functioning. Three of my clients are licensed drivers, and while all but two live with family by choice, most of them could live on their own with some level of support if they chose.

Their diagnoses vary between the different types and causes of mental retardation and autism, but my individualist approach generally does not require me to know what some doctor decided 30 years ago. What is important to me is if the person is doing their job to their employer’s standards, and what I can do to help fix any problems. Down Syndrome, autism, Asperger Syndrome, whatever specific reason someone might be receiving my services is less important than where the individual is right now in his/her training and support needs.

8:00 – arrive at first site, a home improvement chain store.  I briefly visit HR manager’s office to say hello.  She has been designated my primary contact at this site, though I also touch base with my clients’ direct supervisors as often as possible. I work with three people at this site but will only be officially visiting one today, as the others are not working.

My client works in Garden, I find her watering plants outside. We exchange a few pleasantries about the past few nights TV offerings. I double-check a few things I’ve been asked to monitor, everything is great. We chat a little further about her work and a minor matter she would like to discuss with her manager. That particular individual is clearly extremely busy this morning, so I suggest postponing that discussion for a later date.

When the consumer takes a break at 9AM, I sit down nearby to do a little of my paperwork. I check that I wrote notes for the previous days visits, adding a sentence or two to a few of them. I also log on to the company computer system as each of my clients to get their schedules for the week after next. I fiddle a bit with the written schedule I’m preparing for my visits the following week, still incomplete until I get the schedule for a client I will be seeing at the end of the day.

I spend some time slowly walking around the garden section some distance from my client. As always, her work is excellent. I observe her helping a customer find what they want and return to her watering.

I visit the HR office one more time to say goodbye and obtain a signature verifying that morning’s visit. I head over to my client to say goodbye and let her know when I will see her again.

10:00 – drive to next site. (Yes, I get paid for drive time and mileage)

This happens to be another site of the same home improvement chain I just visited. I have three clients here as well, and will be spending time with each of them.

10:30 – again, a brief visit to the HR director’s office. I confirm with her that I still have the blank annual reviews she asked me to help each client fill out (this company has the employee state their opinion of their performance on each area in writing, then the manager completes the form with his/her opinion, with an eval meeting afterwards).

I locate all of the clients in their various departments, say hello, and let them know my plan. I bring one of them back to a private room with me, as he indicates it is a relatively good time for him. We spend about half an hour going over the eval. “Work ethic and dependability is being there every day on time, taking breaks and lunch at the right time, and working hard for the whole shift. Do you think you exceed standards, meet standards, or not? Write a couple of sentences why you chose that. I’ll spell that word for you…” I slip in a few reminders of the issues he and I have been asked to work on, but ensure that the answers on the form are his own, not mine.

I finish with that client and send him back to clearing the lot of shopping carts. I spend some time observing another client in Garden, where he is sweeping up. I joke with him a bit and remind him gently about the matters I’ve been asked to work on with him. I tell him I’ll be going to lunch shortly, and need him to find me to do his review when he is done with his own lunch.

I leave the store to get some lunch. I choose fast food, and spend most of my lunch reading a novel on my Kindle Fire.

I station myself in the training room after my lunch until my client clocks back in, checking schedules on the computer and adding a note or two to various forms for a few minutes. He comes in right on time and we go through the same process as before, though this client prefers that I do the writing. This particular client is an immigrant from south Asia, and his English is somewhat limited.

We finish up, the client goes back to his work in garden and I go look for the third client. He is busy stocking in the Seasonal section, so I spend some time with him chatting and observing until he has reached the point he can come and go through the same process as the other two.

In this case, it’s a little more challenging to get privacy, as managers are gathering in the training room for an afternoon meeting, and the other two private rooms in the general area are also in use. The HR manager figures it out for us, though – she has my client bring a light table into a network server room nearby.

When we’re done, it’s time for his lunch, and very near the end of my visit, so I spend a few minutes wrapping up my visit with managers, saying goodbye to the clients, and writing a few sentences as notes for each client.

2:30 – drive to last site

I then drive to my last site for the day, a supermarket, where my client is a courtesy clerk. She is doing a fantastic job overall, so much so that she doesn’t really want me there. In fact, most of the time I get the silent treatment. She’s busy bagging when I get there, so I just say hello and head to the back room to get her schedule for the next week. I come back out and observe her from a distance, to avoid distracting her or confusing customers.

I try to engage her in a little bit of conversation when she’s not too busy.  She tells me she is unhappy with the schedule she has received. I talk to her about why she doesn’t like it, and suggest that we talk with the manager who writes the schedule so he is aware of her preferences. She mentions a point in the past where she had apparently already done this, and names an individual I do not know (I’m not sure if it’s a previous job coach or job developer from my agency, or a case manager from one of our funding agencies). She seems rather put out that I don’t know this person.

I remind her that scheduling preferences like that can get lost or forgotten over time, and confirm with a lead cashier that I had the right manager in mind to discuss the matter with. The client then says “never mind” and appears very annoyed with me. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t know who the person is she referred to earlier, that I’m not equally outraged that her preferences have been forgotten, or that I’m expecting her to be part of the process (that I don’t just talk to the manager without her).

Particularly at her level of competence, it is very important that I do everything I can to facilitate her independence on these matters. If I just slip upstairs and get her schedule changed for her, that gives her and everyone else the wrong message. My role, in my opinion, is to model and instruct her in the best way of handling these things, encouraging her to handle them on her own when possible, rather than taking them on myself.  I also remind myself that the schedule difference is fairly minor and not an absolute (such as if there would be no transportation home for her, or a conflict with some personal commitment).

The last few minutes, I find a place to sit down where I can still see the client bagging groceries, and complete my planned schedule for the next week and the last remaining notes, as well as my time sheet and mileage for the day. I get a final signature for this visit and say goodbye to the client and the managers.


4:30 – I head home to relax. 🙂

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First impressions of new classes

At the end of my first week of classes this semester, I’m very positive about how things will go this semester.

So far, I’m very impressed with the instructors we have for this term and what we will be learning and doing in each course. I think I wrote a bit about what I could glean from syllabi last week, and that is pretty much all accurate. I was also very pleased to learn that we will indeed be having a take-home midterm instead of in-class.

While the instructors are not permitted to release too much information about each assignment ahead of time, our Behavior instructor did tell us that the midterm will deal with a novel, The Namesake, allowing us to buy and read the book before the assignment is distributed. It is a delightful novel about a Bengali immigrant family in the US, revolving mostly around their son. I’m not anticipating any difficulty with that assignment or any others in Behavior.

I’m a little less sure of what will be going on in the other class, which will be requiring us as individuals and small groups to develop advocacy plans for particular policies.

As far as I can tell, the worst traffic jam of the workload will be at the end of February, early March, with an assignment or two due along with the midterm. But I’ll get through!


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Looking forward to a new semester…

USC vs. Syracuse

Image by jeffdubyn via Flickr

On Monday, I start classes for my second semester in USC’s MSW program. I am proud of my good but not perfect achievement last semester, and am looking forward to building on that.

This semester, like last, I’ll be taking two classes that are pretty much “part two” from last term.

On Mondays, I’ll have 535, Social Welfare.

The purpose of this course is to understand the building blocks of how social welfare policy is developed and implemented in the United States; the substantive rationale for policy; the role of social workers in all areas of practice in promoting social justice; how to advocate; and the integration of practice with policy.

Understanding social welfare policy is vital to social work practice because it fundamentally affects the lives of those served by the profession. Social welfare policy defines who gets what services, resources, and opportunities, and shapes service delivery systems. For these reasons it’s essential that social workers know about the issues and choices that are embedded in various responses to social problems, guided by an understanding of the ethical responsibilities as expressed in the NASW Code of Ethics, and by the analysis of processes that lead to the formulation and delivery of social welfare policies, to more effectively comprehend the ways in which you can be instrumental in shaping policy choices.

This course builds on the substantive understanding of policy development and critical thinking skills acquired in SOWK 534, focusing attention on the analysis of selected current policy issues in key sectors of social welfare as well as in the processes and strategies of policy advocacy to redress various forms of social and economic injustice and empower less advantaged groups in our society.

SOWK 535 provides a foundation for second year, concentration-specific, policy courses (SOWK 630s) in which students apply policy analytic and policy advocacy skills to develop specific policy proposals in a particular service sector.

This class will have three primary assignments. First,  a “Brief the Mayor” examination of a particular policy and a group presentation on this issue.  What I gather is that the class or group will decide on a particular policy or change to existing policy to advocate and actually develop some sort of a plan of implementation. The second paper will be a “report back” on the status of the initial plan. The last paper will be a critical examination of what has been done during the semester.


Social Work 505 will continue “Human Behavior in the Social Environment”

Content includes empirically-based theories and knowledge that focuses on individual development and behavior as well as the interactions between and among individuals, groups, organizations, communities, institutions and larger systems. Students will also learn about human development over the life span including knowledge of biophysiological maturation, cognitive development, social relationships, and the psychosocial developmental tasks for the individual and family from adolescence through late adulthood. At each phase of the life course, the reciprocal interplay between individual development and familial, small group, community and societal contexts are emphasized. The course is organized according to the case study method to help students critically analyze how people develop within a range of social systems (individual, family, group, organizational, and community) and how these systems promote or impede health, well being, and resiliency. Thus, students will critically apply these different theories and perspectives to case studies or scenarios of contemporary situations in complex, urban, multicultural environments as embodied in the Southern California region.

Given the mission and purpose of social work, the course integrates content on the values and ethics of the profession as they pertain to human behavior and development across multiple systems. Special attention is given to the influence of diversity as characterized by (but not limited to) age, gender, class, race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, disability and religion. The course makes important linkages between course content and social work practice, policy, research, and field instruction, specifically in evaluating multiple factors that impinge on functioning and converge in differential assessment and intervention.

This class will have two papers and a midterm – I think it’s up to the instructor whether to make the exam take-home or in class. I prefer the former,  of course, as I seem to do better when I’m not having to remember details as well as the big points.

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I have a professional identity!

I had noticed in my class syllabi and some of the textbooks that one of my objectives (or the school’s objectives for me) is to develop a professional identity. This means to “identify as a professional social worker and conduct oneself accordingly.” The many facets of this concept would include core values, the history of the profession, conduct, advocacy, and many other positive values.

I told myself that this would be something that developed over the next few years, particularly during my internship and field placements. Obviously, as I thought at the time, I can’t have a professional identity until I’ve actually engaged in some professional activities!

But over the last few weeks, I have learned I was wrong. I have developed somewhat of a professional identity, mostly through work.

As I mentioned in a previous post in June, I have some disagreements with my current manager, sometimes mild, sometimes serious. It has been an interesting challenge for me, as a relatively new employee, to bite my tongue when necessary. He made a comment yesterday that he felt it would be hard for me to be “retrained” due to the amount of experience I had elsewhere.

While I didn’t say anything, I realized after thinking about it overnight that he isn’t going to retrain me because the problem isn’t that I’ve been improperly trained. The issue is that I’ve developed a professional identity: an internal set of values, a significant amount of theoretical and practical training in my area, and a personal style incorporating the above with my own personality/temperament.

I accept that at my level of current employment I don’t get to call the shots. That’s part of the trade-off for having a position with limited responsibility that allows me to concentrate on school. But I’d really like to see a little more respect paid to my skills and experience rather than his apparent assumption that 5-10 years of my life were wasted and he somehow needs to “retrain” me.

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Immersion is done… time for a nap

Well,  community immersion and orientation are done, and it has been a long week.

Thursday, we met in the afternoon at our assigned community – Venice, California.  Some classmates and I carpooled together again, which ended up being a great idea. We visited St. Joseph’s center first, which is a large program providing services to low income and homeless individuals and families. I was very impressed with the program and what they had been able to accomplish.

We also visited a community clinic, where a social worker, physician, and a police officer discussed the challenges they face.

After that, we were divided into pairs to go out into the area and interview folks about how they felt about Venice as a community/neighborhood. Both my partner and I felt shy at first, but managed to get our assigned interviews done.

Saturday, we met at the Venice library, where we received a very nice presentation from the branch manager and then walked over to the famous Venice canals. After that, we split up to complete our interviews (each of us had to do 3, with the intention that at least one be a homeless individual). We had no problem completing the assignment on the Venice Boardwalk with all of the fascinating, colorful people that were there. It became much easier to do once as we kept at it.

We were to meet back for lunch and a final classroom session regarding our experiences as well as a bit of a writing workshop for the rest of the afternoon.

My overall impression is positive, but my carpool partners and I tended to agree that some consideration could have been given to limiting the times we had to come back to campus. As satellite campus students, we do not have parking passes, and so had to pay full parking fees. We believed that perhaps we could have arranged the class portions at our satellite location or even the Venice library. I think we all agreed that we’d have accepted the trade off of providing our own lunch for the convenience of less driving and parking fees.

It was a tiring but exciting day.


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A quiet weekend before the storm….

I’ve got a quiet day today before USC takes control of my life in earnest on Tuesday.  Yesterday, we rescued Lucy from the roof a SECOND time yesterday, celebrated Hubby’s birthday with a dinner at a great Israeli restaurant we had never been to before, and got me a new phone (a Samsung Flight II). Gary is hiking with some friends today, so I’ve got the house to myself.

Last week, the Skirball cohort had our summer welcome reception, which was really nice. We got to see what would be our second home for the next year or two.  Someone posted pictures on Facebook (I didn’t even know anyone was doing that!) including my own ugly face, I just hope nobody tags me in them!

Three of my books have come in from the online sources I bought them from – I think I only made one mistake by getting the wrong edition, and that book cost less than a dollar plus shipping, so I think I can manage to buy another copy of the right one.  I’m still waiting for two of them to come.

I had registered for the USC all graduate student orientation on Monday, but I’ve learned that most of what I would get on Monday will be repeated on Tuesday. So I’m thinking I’ll save myself the trouble and parking fees and skip the Monday event.

After that is our mandatory Social Work orientation and the start of the “Immersion.”  Tuesday (all day)  and Saturday afternoon are at the UPC (University Park Campus – USC speak for the main campus as opposed to the medical school or other locations), Thursday and Saturday morning are out someplace we’ll be directed later. Fortunately, I’ve found a few other classmates in my area to share the ride to the main campus with, so we’ll be sharing gas and parking costs.  What I’ve gathered so far is that the immersion is a visit to a community served by social workers where we are to do some observation as the beginning of our Policy class.  I’m expecting something like a visit to a homeless or women’s shelter.  The policy class syllabus shows group presentations based on this in a couple of weeks, so it isn’t just for show.

Class starts a week from Monday. From what I can tell, I’ll get a couple of class days off in September, one for Labor Day and one for the Jewish holidays – our classes are at Skirball, a Jewish cultural center, so that makes a lot of sense. I’ve received the syllabus from one of my classes, it seems like it is all papers and presentations, no exams are listed!

My student loans were supposed to show up in my account yesterday, but they didn’t. I’m not sure what happened – I hope I don’t have to make any calls or visits to Financial Aid or the cashier’s office next week of all weeks!

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